SMG braved the cold weather to travel to Chester for this edition of SMG News, to visit with Steven & Debra Bemand at The Little Carpet Shop. Members since 2011, Steven and Debra run a thriving business on one of the main routes into Chester. A light, bright, warm and welcoming store with brilliant optimisation of the space they have to stock some of the top carpet ranges to great effect. Steven and Debra used to have a building business but with the downturn in the building trade, they decided a change of direction was called for. As Steven had previously trained as a carpet fitter, and, as they have a passion for interiors, they decided that opening a carpet shop would be an exciting new venture for them both. Originally with Steven fitting and Debra running the shop, they have now grown to have three teams of fitters, subcontractors and 6 liveried vans. In a perfect spot on a main road and with its own parking this store is ideally situated and Steven & Debra have recently expanded into a warehouse area to one side of the shop making it even better for them holding stock.
SMG put the usual questions to Steven and Debra and here’s what they said:
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE INDEPENDENT RETAILER’S STRENGTH?
“It has to be the excellent customer service they provide. We are in control of all aspects of the business and will react immediately to any complaints and ensure the customer is totally satisfied. We have our own fitters and can ensure that everything is done to the utmost standards to give the customer a great experience. In larger multiples the salesperson is just one aspect of the sale. There is no cohesive service for the customer. Independent retailers can be totally customer focused – it’s their business and their name so they really care.”
WHAT IS THE KEY MARKET CHALLENGE TODAY?
“Fake sales! The larger retailers have regular sales with free underlay, free fitting, 90% off and so on. Of course the price is so much higher to factor those things in but the customer doesn’t recognise that. Our policy has always been transparency – giving the customer the best price we can, all of the time.”
SMG HAS A STRONG POLICY OF SUPPORTING BRITISH MANUFACTURERS, IS THIS SOMETHING YOU SUPPORT?
“We certainly do support British manufacturers and indeed, since Brexit customers are more focused on supporting British manufacturing too. They want to support independent local stores and British products. Our biggest suppliers are Cormar and Abingdon, both British manufacturers.”
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS YOU HAVE FROM CUSTOMERS?
“We are often asked about polypropylene – what it is and why it is stain resistant – they want to know if it’s been treated for stain resistance with chemicals.”
IF YOU COULD ASK SUPPLIERS TO CHANGE ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
“To improve their customer service! We would like their customer service to be as good as ours – where we will do anything to ensure the customer is happy and, the customer is always right. Also, some products have a 10 year wear warranty, but if you find you have delamination for example, that is only covered for 2 years! It ends up that the retailer has to take the hit on replacing product so that the customer is happy. No one wants bad reviews after all. Also, it’s important that the representatives ensure retailer sampling is up to date. You don’t want to spend hours helping a customer decide on a product, place the order and then find it’s discontinued.”
WHAT IS YOUR TOP SELLING PRODUCT AT THE MOMENT?
“Our best selling products currently are mid range polypropylenes. It used to be wool but that has all changed over the last few years.”
WHAT WAS THE MAIN REASON FOR JOINING SMG?
“It has to be access to product. We have limited space for sampling and so it’s ideal that we can access products from suppliers we don’t have an account with. The rebates are very helpful too!”
WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO NON-ALIGNED RETALERS?
“I don’t see why you wouldn’t join for access to product alone.”
WHAT HAS CHANGED MOST DURING YOUR TIME IN THE INDUSTRY?
“It has to be the move towards the synthetics. It used to be predominantly wool but now customers want to change their carpets more often and so want to go for the cheaper products. They don’t want it to last for years and years. They also want the stain resistance that the synthetics advertise.”